Handbook Helps Local Leaders Engage Districts on ESSA

Local implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the focus of many new resources for stakeholders, as school district begin to create their own ESSA implementation plan. One of the latest, which National PTA contributed to, is Meaningful Local Engagement Under ESSA—Issue 2: A Handbook for Local Leadersfrom Partners for Each and Every Child and the Council of Chief State School Officers. This is a follow up to Issue 1, which focused on school district and school leaders.

The handbook focuses on how school districts, families, and community advocates can engage in three key areas:

  1. Needs Assessments and Priority-Building
  2. School Improvement Strategies
  3. Resource Alignment

The first area is designed to help school districts determine their needs for school improvement and increasing student achievement. Districts then engage with their families and communities to prioritize these needs.

The second area takes those priorities and looks at strategies schools can use to improve student achievement. The handbook covers how districts can use a “whole child” approach (like Illinois has chosen in its state ESSA implementation plan) to meet student needs. Areas covered include:

  • Improving Data Systems and Reporting
  • Restructuring Academic Assessments
  • Incorporating Technology in the Classroom
  • Introducing Advanced Coursework
  • Increasing Access to After-School and Expanded Learning
  • Creating a Positive/Pro-Social School Climate
  • Increasing Nutrition and Food Access
  • Aligning and Supporting Early Childhood Education
  • Reducing Chronic Absence
  • Increasing Access to the Arts
  • Supporting English Learners
  • Supporting Students with Disabilities
  • Supporting Students in Foster Care and Experiencing Homelessness
  • Supporting Teachers and Leaders

The final area of focus is resource alignment. After prioritizing needs and selecting strategies, school districts must determine how to adequately fund those school improvements. This section help districts and advocates with resource mapping and budgeting. Opportunities for ESSA funding from federal and state governments are covered as well.

Finally, the report provides additional resources and tools, as well as a glossary of terms that those new to the discussion may not be familiar with. Download the reportand begin discussing with your school and district how your PTA can be involved in creating your district’s ESSA implementation plan.

 

Engage for Education Equity Toolkit

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Illinois’s ESSA implementation plan emphasize family engagement as a critical piece for improving student achievement. To help empower parents, families, caregivers, students, and other community members, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Partners for Each and Every Child, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund have partnered to create the Engage for Education Equity Toolkit.

The toolkit provides resources, explanations, and processes to help stakeholders like PTAs engage with their school district’s implementation of ESSA to ensure that every child receives the quality education they deserve. The toolkit includes:

  • Fact sheets on various aspects of ESSA at the local level
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to engage with school administrators, create advocacy plans, and effectively advocate for your child
  • Letter templates for contacting decision-makers
  • Sample meeting materials
  • Case studies of effective engagement in school districts across the country
  • A glossary of education and ESSA-related terms so you can understand the terms used by school administrators

PTA has been an advocacy organization from its founding. When we advocate for children with our school districts, we can have a tremendous effect not just on our child’s school but also for all the children in our district. Take advantage of the Engage for Education Equity Toolkit, as school districts are creating their ESSA implementation plans now.

Understanding the Barriers to High School Graduation

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life Coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member, and is by Stephanie J. Schmitz Bechteler, Ph.D., the Vice President and Executive Director of the Chicago Urban League.

High school graduation is one of the most important milestones teenagers must achieve as they transition into late adolescence and early adulthood. While there are many critical changes to be made regarding the quality of high school programs, curriculum, teaching strategies and school climate—particularly for our most vulnerable students—it is an undeniable truth that earning a high school diploma is the first step along the pathway to college or professional training and career development.

Some reformers believe that in the short term, we might have to grudgingly accept lower graduation rates as we increase educational standards and implement true college and career readiness in the high schools. This solution feels unsatisfying and potentially harmful to the students and parents most impacted by the resource and talent deficits found in many underperforming schools. The solution should not be to penalize students for the challenges faced by the schools and teachers, but to ensure that the schools can provide the students with the comprehensive set of services and supports that they need to succeed.

For students that face barriers or challenges above and beyond what their peers face, the attainment of a high school diploma is not always a guarantee. There are many factors, both individual, academic, and community-based, that can stand between a student and their diploma. Research over the past few decades has shown that these factors are more likely to impact groups often identified as the most vulnerable in our schools: students of color, students living in low-income household, students with disabilities and students with limited English speaking abilities. What are their challenges, and what do they need to succeed?

It is difficult to do all of the potential barriers justice in a short article, so this will summarize some of the main areas, and provide links to learn more. Academic barriers can begin very young for some students. Research has shown that access to quality pre-K and Kindergarten programming can provide students a foundation that lasts for the remainder of their academic career. Not performing at grade level in reading and math, even as early as 3rd grade, can be indicative of struggles that will be hard for students to overcome later on in their schooling. It’s clear that investments in early and elementary education are critical to high school success. Once students enter high school, student performance in the freshman year can predict how the student will fair during their remaining years. Students that are chronically truant and scoring low grades in core subjects are candidates for further assessment and intervention. And all students in high school should also be taught not just how to study and prepare for tests, but how to think critically can build what is known as an “investigative” approach to life and to studies. All students, not just those in the best schools, should have their curiosity nurtured and be rewarded for asking, “why?” or “how?” or “what if?”

Students also face personal and community barriers that are not as readily solved by schools, but need to at minimum be recognized and considered by teachers, administrators and education policymakers. Personal experiences faced by students—homelessness, trauma, health or mental health issues, lack of caring adults, needing to contribute financially to the home, involvement in the criminal justice system, racism and other forms of discrimination—significantly impact school performance and educational outcomes. It is hard enough to be a consistently engaged student, let alone if you are a student that has to balance these other factors with your learning. Schools that have the resources to provide supportive services above and beyond academic help, such as counseling or special programming, may be able to offset some of these challenges. But many schools in under-resourced communities lack the resources to scale the programming to fit student need. This is where community-school partnerships and adequate funding mechanisms are necessary. Community leaders, education reformers, policymakers and elected officials must work together to accurately and honestly examine equity gaps across the state and districts and then provide an influx of resources based on school or district need. This means that not all schools will get the same level of resources to support their students, nor should they. Schools get what they need, based on need and the statewide commitment to support all students equitably.

LINKS

 

Early Learning Council’s New Guidelines for Community Engagement

The value of PTA can be measured in a wide variety of ways, but one of the most strategic is representation of the parent community at the state level through participation in meaningful relationships. One such relationship is with the Illinois Early Learning Council. Created by Public Act 93-380, the Council is a public-private partnership designed to strengthen, coordinate, and expand programs and services for children, birth to five, throughout Illinois. The Council builds on current programs to ensure a comprehensive, statewide early learning system (preschool, child care, Head Start, health care, and support programs for parents) to improve the lives of Illinois children and families.

The mission of the Council is to collaborate with child-serving systems and families to meet the needs of young children, prioritizing those with the highest need, through comprehensive early learning services for children and families prenatally to age five. The Illinois PTA continues to be part of the Early Learning Council, and a representative serves on the Principles and Practices subcommittee. Ongoing dialogue about the need for age-appropriate learning experiences has prompted the development of the Guidelines for Community Engagement (included in the ZIP file).

We believe these guidelines can assist parents of young children, as well as PTA leaders, in creating a dialogue with teachers and administrators centered on the Illinois Early Learning Standards, as well as with the community at large with regard to the value of high quality early learning programs. In addition, PTA Councils in districts with an early learning program may wish to meet with their district about forming an early learning PTA to serve as a resource for family communication and education.